Depression is a mental health disorder characterised by a constant low mood which affects your everyday life and activities. There are many different types of depression and depression can be triggered by many different factors. It is important to understand these different forms of depression so you can understand your mental health more and to make sure you get the best help and information that suits you.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as SAD, is a type of depression which people find prevalent during certain seasons throughout the year. It is normal to feel low moods or lack of energy during certain seasons or weather, such as winter with its cold temperatures and dark evenings. However, if you find that these feelings are affecting your everyday life and mood drastically, and you notice they only occur at certain times of the year, you could be considered to have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is important to discuss this mental health issue now as we are going into the winter season and this is the time of year most people notice their symptoms of SAD appear.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects 1 in 3 individuals and has been found to be more common for women and young people.
How do you know if you are suffering from SAD?
Symptoms include a low mood, lack of energy, sleep problems, irritability, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, a change in your appetite, you may lack interest in hobbies or activities that you usually enjoy and have feelings of isolation. These symptoms can be different for each individual and can sometimes have a significant effect on individuals wellbeing, mental health and everyday life.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Though the exact cause of SAD has not been concluded, it has been suggested that a main factor is due to the lack of sunlight during winter affecting the production of hormones in the body. The hormone Melatonin may be overproduced in people that suffer from SAD which is the hormone that makes us feel tired, explaining the lack of energy and sleep trouble. Additionally, we find lower levels of the hormone Serotonin which affects our mood, appetite and sleep, again explaining some of the symptoms of SAD. Furthermore, it has also been suggested that some people may be more vulnerable to SAD due to genes.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder treated?
SAD does have some medical ways it can be treated, these include Light Therapy, Talking Therapies and Antidepressants, but it has also been suggested that you may be able to help yourself relieve some symptoms of SAD with small lifestyle changes. Here are some things you can do which can help you during the winter.
Natural Light: As a reason you may be feeling down in the winter time is due to the lack of sunlight it is good to get as much of it in a day as you can! The easiest way to do this is by taking a walk when you have the opportunity to, this may be in the morning as the sun rises or on your lunch break, this will be a good way to help yourself mentally and physically. If you are working from home or find yourself indoors most of the day, try opening curtains and blinds to let in the light, creating yourself a brighter workspace. Just getting a few more minutes of natural sunlight will lift your mood for the day more than you think.
Diary: Keep a diary or a journal to track your behaviours. Keeping a diary and writing down how you are feeling most days will help you for multiple reasons, first, you can track your behaviours and potentially find patterns in your behaviour. You may discover what factors make you feel some of the symptoms of SAD, such as upset, stressed or irritated.
Knowing what triggers your negative feelings is important as you can then plan coping mechanisms to help you when your trigger appears or make choices in the day which means these triggers will be avoided. Secondly, journaling can improve your mood as for example, you could list 3 things you are excited about that day, 3 things you are grateful for and 3 things you like about yourself. Writing down positive things about your life is a quick and simple thing you can do every day, making your mood instantly lifted and getting your day off to a good start.
Talk to someone: Like most mental health problems the first step to getting help is to reach out and talk to someone. This should be someone you trust like a family member, or if you don’t feel you have someone in your life you can talk to, there are many helplines you can call. If you have SAD you may feel like you want to be alone and isolate yourself, and while this may make you feel comfortable in the short term it will have negative effects long term. Seeing a friend or speaking to someone on the phone will boost your mood, get feelings off your chest and allow you to catch up about one another’s life. Talking is a powerful coping mechanism and should not be underrated.
Relax: Stress is a very negative emotion and can be caused by lots of things in everyday work or home life. Knowing what relaxes you from this stress is important, especially if you suffer from SAD in the winter time. Take time out for yourself, do things you enjoy and that make you feel calm. This time of year is hard for many people, the nights are darker, the weather is cold and dull, it’s important to enjoy the little things in life and seek joy in the mundane.